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Answer 10 questions before mapping a learning experience

Before designers can map a learning experience, they first need to collaborate with their clients to discover answers to many key "make or break" questions. Crafting an effective learner journey map demands an intimate understanding of the learners' backgrounds, motivations, goals, and obstacles. Prior to initiating this intricate design process, instructional designers need to collect extensive information from their clients and, whenever possible, the learners themselves.

Through this lesson, you should be able to identify ten pivotal questions to answer before developing a learner journey map.

1. Who are the learners?

Instructional designers are often given high-level information about their target audience, like business units, locations, and job roles. When asked, clients may also share information about the learners' familiarity and experience with the subject matter. This information is a helpful starting point, but whenever possible designers should dig deeper to identify any other useful information that could help them shape a learner-centric experience. For instance, designers can learn more about their audiences by:

  • Conducting surveys, interviews, and focus groups with learners, their managers, and team members (and potentially customers, as appropriate) who interact with them

  • Gathering data from learning management systems

  • Reviewing learner feedback on similar programs or courses

  • Analyzing learners' performance measurements, if available

  • Observing learners at work

2. What are the learners' goals and motivations?

To uncover the goals and motivations of learners, designers should directly engage with the intended audience through surveys, interviews, or focus groups, focusing on the skills learners are interested in developing. By asking specific questions, designers can better understand the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations behind learners' desires to acquire new skills.

Here are key questions to consider:

  • When it comes to [primary topic], what skills are you interested in developing?

  • How have you tried to develop these skills in the past? To what extent were you successful?

  • How do you envision using these skills in your role?

  • What challenges do you hope to overcome by acquiring these skills?

These questions aim to reveal whether learners are driven by personal curiosity, professional advancement, or the need to meet specific performance benchmarks. Understanding learners' desired skills and outcomes allows designers to tailor the learning journey to be relevant, engaging, and aligned with their personal and professional goals, thereby sparking interest and motivating learners to succeed.

3. What are the key learning goals?

Designers should conduct a thorough needs analysis, engaging with subject matter experts (SMEs), and aligning with organizational objectives. This process starts by identifying the specific skills, knowledge, and attitudes (SKAs) that the learning experience aims to develop in learners.

Designers should ask:

  • What should learners be able to do better or differently at the end of this experience than when they started?

  • How do these learning outcomes align with broader organizational goals?

  • What are the critical attitudes or behaviors we aim to influence or change through this learning experience?

Engaging with SMEs is crucial for ensuring that the learning outcomes are realistic, relevant, and accurately reflect the current standards and practices within the field. Additionally, designers should consider the learners' perspective by asking:

  • How will these learning outcomes benefit the learners in their professional or personal lives?

  • Are there any regulatory or certification requirements that these outcomes need to meet?

By synthesizing information from these sources, designers can define clear, measurable learning goals that serve as the foundation for the learning journey. These goals guide the selection of content, instructional strategies, and assessments, ensuring that every element of the learning experience is focused on achieving these defined objectives.

To learn more, complete the lesson "Write learning objectives."

4. What challenges and obstacles do learners currently face?

To effectively identify the challenges and obstacles learners currently face, designers need to focus on gathering specific data points rather than the collection methods.

These key data points include:

  • Previous learning experiences: Insights into learners' past educational encounters can reveal patterns of difficulties with certain subjects or learning formats, highlighting areas needing tailored support.

  • Subject-specific challenges: Identifying topics within the subject area that are historically difficult for learners helps in focusing on areas that may require additional explanation or alternative teaching strategies.

  • Personal and logistical barriers: Understanding individual learner circumstances, such as time constraints, work commitments, and access to reliable internet or study spaces, is crucial for designing flexible and accessible learning solutions.

  • Technical proficiency and access: Assessing learners' comfort with and access to the necessary technology for the course can highlight needs for technical support or alternative resources.

  • Accessibility needs: Information on any disabilities or learning differences among the learner population is essential for creating inclusive content and interfaces that accommodate all learners.

  • Motivational barriers: Identifying common motivational challenges, including anxiety, lack of confidence in the subject area, or unclear learning benefits, can inform strategies to enhance learner engagement and persistence.

By focusing on these specific data points, designers can better understand the multifaceted barriers learners face. This holistic view enables the creation of more supportive, engaging, and effective learning experiences that anticipate and address potential obstacles, ensuring a smoother and more successful learning journey for all participants.

5. What is the preferred delivery format?

To thoroughly answer the question about the preferred delivery format, instructional designers need to consider a comprehensive range of factors beyond just learner preferences and logistical constraints. These include:

  • Learner preferences and accessibility needs: This covers not just the preferred learning delivery options (e.g. instructor-led, virtual, facilitator-led asynchronous courses, self-paced eLearning courses) but also any specific needs that ensure the learning environment is accessible to all, including those with disabilities.

  • Technology access and proficiency: Understanding the level of access to and comfort with technology among learners helps determine if digital or blended learning approaches are feasible.

  • Logistical constraints: Factors like learners' schedules, locations, and other commitments can influence the choice between synchronous and asynchronous learning methods.

  • Learning environment and resources: The physical or digital learning spaces available, and their suitability for the proposed learning activities, are crucial in selecting the right delivery format.

  • Content complexity and interaction level: The nature of the content and the desired level of learner-to-learner and learner-to-instructor interaction can dictate the most effective delivery method.

  • Evaluation and feedback mechanisms: The methods for assessing learner progress and providing feedback can also affect the choice of format, particularly in ensuring integrity and meaningful engagement.

  • Cost implications: Budget constraints are a significant factor, affecting everything from the choice between digital and physical materials to the scale and scope of the learning experience.

  • Scalability and flexibility: The ability to accommodate an increasing number of learners and to update content easily without a proportional increase in cost or complexity.

  • Learning community and support systems: The format's impact on building a supportive learning community, including peer interactions and access to mentorship or instructor support.

  • Cultural and linguistic considerations: The need for content that is accessible and relevant to learners with diverse cultural backgrounds and language proficiencies.

  • Data security and privacy: Ensuring learner data is protected, especially in online formats, and that the learning experience complies with applicable privacy regulations.

  • Environmental impact: The sustainability of the learning delivery format, considering the environmental footprint of digital versus physical delivery methods.

By evaluating these detailed factors, instructional designers can make informed decisions about the most suitable delivery format that aligns with the learners' needs, the content's requirements, and the broader organizational and environmental context. This comprehensive approach enhances the effectiveness, accessibility, and sustainability of the learning experience.

6. How will the learning be applied in real-world contexts?

To effectively answer how learning will be applied in real-world contexts, instructional designers need to gather insights into several key areas:

  • Learner's professional and personal goals: Understanding the specific goals learners aim to achieve through the learning experience helps tailor the content to real-world applications relevant to their careers or personal development.

  • Industry or sector-specific challenges: Knowledge of the current challenges, trends, and needs within the industry or sector the learners are part of or aspiring to join. This ensures the learning experience addresses practical problems and offers up-to-date solutions.

  • Task and skill application scenarios: Identifying common tasks, projects, or scenarios in which the new skills or knowledge would be applied. This could involve consulting with industry experts, employers, or reviewing job role descriptions to pinpoint where and how the learning outcomes will be utilized in practical settings.

  • Performance support needs: Determining what tools, resources, or forms of support learners will need to successfully apply their new skills in the workplace or in personal projects. This might include digital tools, reference materials, or networks for ongoing support.

  • Feedback loops from alumni or industry partners: Gathering insights from those who have already applied the learning in real-world contexts or from partners in relevant industries can highlight how past learning experiences have been transferred to practical applications and what improvements can be made.

  • Compliance and regulatory requirements: For certain industries, understanding the legal, compliance, or regulatory frameworks that learners need to navigate. This ensures that the learning not only prepares learners for practical application but also aligns with industry standards and requirements.

By focusing on these areas, instructional designers can create learning experiences that not only impart knowledge and skills but also clearly illustrate how these can be applied in real-life situations, enhancing the value and relevance of the learning for participants.

7. What resources are available for learning?

To answer the question about what resources are available for learning, instructional designers need to gather detailed information on several fronts:

  • Existing content and materials: Inventory of current educational materials, including textbooks, digital content, and other resources that could be repurposed or adapted for the new learning experience.

  • Technology and platforms: Assessment of the available technology infrastructure, such as learning management systems (LMS), interactive tools, and communication platforms, to support various learning activities and delivery formats.

  • Budget constraints: Understanding of the financial resources allocated for the development and delivery of the learning experience, which will impact decisions on creating custom content, purchasing materials, or investing in technology.

  • Subject matter experts and instructors: Information on the availability and willingness of SMEs and instructors to contribute to the learning experience, whether through content creation, facilitation, or support.

  • Access to external resources: Opportunities to leverage external resources, such as online courses, industry publications, and professional networks, that can complement the learning experience.

  • Physical spaces and equipment: For in-person or blended learning experiences, details on available physical spaces (e.g., classrooms, labs) and necessary equipment (e.g., computers, lab materials) that can be used.

  • Support services: Availability of support services, including technical support for digital tools, tutoring, mentoring, and library services, that can enhance the learning experience.

By thoroughly assessing these resources, instructional designers can strategically plan how to best utilize available assets, identify gaps that need to be addressed, and make informed decisions about developing or procuring additional materials and technology to support the learning objectives.

8. How will progress and success be measured?

To determine how progress and success will be measured in a learning experience, instructional designers need to delve into various factors that influence assessment and evaluation strategies. These include:

  • Learning objectives and outcomes: A clear understanding of the specific skills, knowledge, and behaviors the learning experience aims to develop. This foundation is crucial for designing assessments that accurately measure whether these objectives are being met.

  • Criteria for success: Defining what success looks like for each learning objective, including performance benchmarks or standards that learners must achieve to demonstrate mastery.

  • Assessment methods and tools: Knowledge of a range of assessment methods and tools that can be used to evaluate learner progress and outcomes. This might include quizzes, projects, portfolios, simulations, peer assessments, and self-reflections.

  • Feedback mechanisms: Planning for how and when feedback will be provided to learners. Effective feedback is timely, constructive, and specific, helping learners understand their progress and areas for improvement.

  • Data collection and analysis: Understanding how to collect, analyze, and use data from assessments to inform instructional decisions. This involves choosing the right technology and tools to gather meaningful data on learner performance.

  • Accommodations for diverse learners: Considering the needs of learners with different backgrounds, abilities, and learning preferences to ensure assessments are fair and inclusive. This may involve offering alternative assessment formats or additional support for some learners.

  • Alignment with external standards or certifications: If the learning experience is designed to prepare learners for external certifications or aligns with industry standards, instructional designers need to ensure that assessments adequately prepare learners for these external evaluations.

  • Continuous improvement process: Establishing a process for using assessment data not just to measure learner progress, but also to continuously improve the learning experience itself. This involves regular review and adjustment of learning materials, activities, and assessments based on outcomes.

By addressing these aspects, instructional designers can create a comprehensive and effective assessment strategy that not only measures learner progress and success accurately but also enhances the overall learning experience.

9. What are the logistical considerations?

To address logistical considerations effectively, instructional designers need to take into account several key factors that can influence the planning, development, and delivery of a learning experience. These considerations include:

  • Timeline and scheduling: Detailed planning around the start and end dates of the learning experience, including the scheduling of specific sessions, deadlines for assignments, and timing for assessments. This also involves considering the availability of learners and instructors, as well as any significant dates or holidays that might affect participation.

  • Resource allocation: Decisions on how resources, including budget, personnel, and materials, will be distributed throughout the project. This requires prioritizing certain aspects of the learning experience based on goals, learner needs, and available resources.

  • Technology requirements: Identifying the technological needs for the learning experience, such as specific software, hardware, or platforms, and ensuring that both learners and instructors have access to and are trained in these technologies.

  • Communication plans: Establishing clear channels and strategies for communication among learners, instructors, and stakeholders. This includes regular updates, feedback mechanisms, and support contacts.

  • Physical space requirements: For in-person or blended learning experiences, determining the need for physical spaces like classrooms, labs, or meeting rooms, and ensuring these spaces are booked and properly equipped.

  • Accessibility and accommodations: Planning to make the learning experience accessible to all learners, including those with disabilities. This involves providing appropriate accommodations and ensuring that both digital and physical environments comply with accessibility standards.

  • Risk management: Identifying potential risks that could impact the delivery of the learning experience, such as technical failures, disruptions, or health and safety concerns, and developing contingency plans to address these risks.

  • Compliance and legal considerations: Ensuring that the learning experience complies with relevant laws, regulations, and policies, including data protection, copyright, and educational standards.

  • Evaluation and feedback collection: Planning for the collection of feedback and evaluation data from learners and instructors to assess the effectiveness of the learning experience and identify areas for improvement.

By carefully considering these logistical aspects, instructional designers can ensure that the learning experience is well-planned, smoothly executed, and provides a supportive environment for learners to achieve their objectives.

10. What experiences do you want learners to have?

Envisioning the desired emotional and experiential journey of learners leads to the creation of immersive and memorable learning experiences. Incorporate elements of storytelling, gamification, or social learning to engage learners emotionally and foster a sense of community and collaboration.

In gathering detailed and thoughtful responses to these questions, instructional designers can craft learner journey maps that are not only aligned with educational objectives but are also deeply resonant with learners' real-world needs and contexts. This expanded approach ensures the learning journey is comprehensive, engaging, and transformative for all participants, facilitating not just knowledge acquisition but the development of critical skills and attitudes for lifelong learning.

Summary and next steps

After reading this list of questions (and all their subset questions), I hope it has become evident that projects should set aside sufficient time to collect the necessary information about learners and also the organization's capabilities and constraints for the learning experience before ideating and mapping solutions. Whenever possible, gather data from learners themselves instead of relying only on stakeholders and subject matter experts. A truly learner-centric experience requires direct input from learners themselves.

After these questions are sufficiently answered, designers are then better equipped to create a learner journey map that will provide a learning experience that will tap into learner motivations, help them meet their goals, and offer the level of support and practice they need.

Ready for that next step? Complete the lesson, "Develop a learner journey map."


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